Friday, March 26, 2010

Weekly maintenance

Weekly maintenance consists of a set of checks and does not necessarily involve any work being carried out. The tool list is minimal. A jack is vital; scissors jacks are not recommended, a bottle jack is acceptable and a small trolley jack is ideal. The author does not favour the use of scissors jacks because, although they have the advantages of being lightweight and cheap to buy, they are not usually stable enough for any work save a roadside wheel change; for this purpose, their chief advantage is that they take up very little room within the car.
A jack is a purely a lifting device and it is not intended to be used as a support – never work on or under a car which is supported only by a jack – so you will need a pair of axle stands. These are not too expensive and last a lifetime. You also require a tyre pressure gauge and a tread depth gauge. A small stock of consumables is recommended; these being battery electrolyte, engine oil in the specified grade and brake hydraulic fluid. Firstly check the tyre pressures. Then chock both wheels on one side of the car, place the car in neutral and release the handbrake, then jack up the other side and support it on axle stands. Examine the tyres for cuts, bulges and tread depth. Look for the early signs of uneven tread wear; if the tread is wearing faster in the centre of the pattern than it is at the edges then the tyres have probably been over-inflated. If the tread wear is concentrated at both edges of the pattern then the tyre is probably under-inflated. If the tread wear is concentrated on one side of the pattern then the wheel alignment (tracking) requires adjustment, something which should be carried out professionally. If a tyre is faulty then replace it with the spare, and have the faulty tyre attended to. Repeat for the other side of the car.
Check the engine oil. The dipstick has two marks on it; one showing maximum level and the lower showing the minimum. Few people know the knack of pouring oil into a Beetle engine: decant the oil into a one pint milk bottle, offer it up to the filler neck then tip it up sharply. In addition to allowing you to fill the engine without covering the tinware with oil, this allows you to meter out precise quantities of oil. When pouring oil into the engine, bear in mind that the difference between the max and min marks represents just two pints of oil, so do not pour in too much at one go. Pour in a little, leave it for a couple of minutes to drain down into the sump, then re-check the level, topping up further if necessary. Take care not to over-fill the engine with oil, because too much oil can cause nearly as much damage as too little.
If the oil level is slightly low then top it up; if it has dropped substantially then the cause of the loss must be found at the earliest opportunity, and preferably before the car is used on the road. A car with a serious engine oil leak should not be used for any journey save the shortest run to a repair centre, and even for this it is advisable to tow the car in preference to driving it because engine damage can be very rapid once the oil level drops below a certain level. Remember that the oil in a Beetle engine is its liquid coolant; if the level is low then the engine will quickly overheat, which thins the oil and exacerbates the problems.
Check the fluid level in the brake reservoir (not applicable to early cars with mechanical brakes). If the level is very slightly down then top it up, if it is markedly low, then top it up but either trace and cure the leak yourself or have this done professionally at the earliest opportunity. If the level has dropped substantially then do not use the car on the road until the fault has been found and rectified. (See Chapter Four – Brakes).
Check the level of the water in the windscreen washer bottle (and the air pressure, which should be kept at around 40 psi in self-contained pressurised tanks – the spare wheel in cars which use the spare's compressed air to power the washer should also be kept at 40 psi) and top up if necessary. Do not use washing-up liquid in the bottle, because these liquids contain industrial salts which accelerate bodywork rusting. If desired, use a proprietary screen wash product.
Check the level of the battery electrolyte and top up if necessary. A substantial drop in the level (even in just one cell) means that the battery will have to be replaced.
Finally, check the tension of the generator drive belt. If this belt becomes too slack, it will not only fail to turn the generator (and so drain the battery), but it will also fail to turn the cooling fan and the engine will overheat. If the belt is too tight then it will place unnecessarily heavy loadings on the generator bearings. The belt should deflect by around 1/2 in. under firm pressure from your thumb. If the belt is too slack, adjust it as described later in this chapter.

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